In most states, Shelf Road would be the premier climbing area, offering well-bolted limestone sport climbing in a beautiful location. In Colorado, it’s just another incredible place to climb. Just two hours drive south of Denver, Shelf is the place to go to test your endurance on long, pumpy, vertical routes with crimps and pockets. Like many other climbing areas, Shelf can get quite crowded on weekends during peak season so take that time to explore lesser known crags.
If you’re coming here for more than a day trip, it’s a good idea to stock up on supplies and beer while in Canon City, as the 20-minute drive to the camping is not something you want to do every day. There’s a Walmart Super Center in town, as well as a City Market if you’re not down with Walmart. While we’re not gonna take sides on that debate, the red white and blue sugar cookies at Walmart are like redpoint rocket fuel and about as patriotic as cookies get.
Due to the vertical angle and nature of the rock, the climbs at Shelf are heavily concentrated in the 5.10-5.12 range, with very little at lower grades. The routes are often long, requiring up to 16 draws for some, though rarely will you need a 60-meter rope. 16 draws on a sub 30-meter climb? Yeah, the bolting is pretty friendly here. You’ll almost never need a stick-clip either, as low cruxes are not common while low first bolts are. In general, Shelf is a good place to push yourself physically, and the grades are generally spot-on and consistent.
Rick Thompson’s guidebooks make it super easy to navigate the area, though it’s possible to get by without them using Mountain Project. There are nice info stands with maps at both parking areas, and the trails often have signs to direct you toward the established cliffs.
- Suburbia 5.10b/c
- Enchanted Porkfist 5.11a
- Lats Don’t Have Feelings 5.11c
- Tits Up 5.12b
With crags that face many different aspects, Shelf is a great place to come any time of the year. During the summer you’ll be chasing the shade (e.g., Dark Side in the morning, The Vault in the afternoon), while in the winter you’ll be chasing the sun (Cactus cliff most of the day).
The two campgrounds are Sand Gulch and the Banks Campground. Both are $7/night for small sites and $14 for larger group sites, which are overall a good deal, especially if you can split it with other people. It’s hard to beat the location, waking up to beautiful views of the mountains in the distance and the crags nearby, and it’s quite nice to go climbing without having to get into the car (both campgrounds have climbing areas within walking distance). Here’s a photo of the Sand Gulch campground to give an idea:
There’s no water available at the campgrounds, so stock up when you’re in Canon City. Walmart has a water fountain inside.
There is a Mexican place inside a gas station in Canon City. Sounds sketchy, but truthfully it’s not to be missed. The fish burrito is highly recommended, fresh and light and delicious and for $6, well worth it.
Unfortunately there’s no showers at either campground, and nowhere close by to go swimming, so be prepared to get dirty if you stick around here for a while. There are several cheap hotels back in Canon City that you can escape to if things get rough.
There’s not much else to do around here than climb. There are some hiking trails and some folks come here to ride dirt bikes, but that’s about it.